A Canadian in Beijing: Performing at The 4th Annual Olympic Cultural Festival

About a month ago, I introduced you to my friend Chairman George, a performer and musician from Canada who tours his music in China once a year. (Well, at least once a year.) I met him in May and then we said goodbye. Fortunately, George came back at the end of June before I had to leave Beijing and I had a chance to connect with him again.

This time on the stage.

George does quite a bit in association with the Olympics here in Beijing. In 2004, he was a volunteer for China at the Athens Olympic games. It made perfect sense since he has a Chinese profile (and speaks the language), is Greek by descent (and speaks the language) and is Canadian (always a neutral nationality that puts people at ease!) He was actually a torch bearer and told some colourful stories about his time in Athens. I listened to each intently.

As a result of this experience, George does a lot of performing for various Olympic committee events or conferences in Beijing. . .

On the 24th of June, he asked me to perform with him at Renmin Daxue 人民大学 at an Olympic Conference performance and it was a great success. I sang backup on one of his songs and even a short excerpt from a famous Chinese song that I’ve been singing lately: 月亮代表我的心 “Yue Liang Daibiao Wode Xin.” The response was fantastic and so he asked me if I wanted to be part of another Olympics performance the following night.

I agreed.

This, too, was a great success. It was outdoors and filled with excited people, television cameras, several famous Chinese vocalists and performers, big screens broadcasting the stage to the filled audience, etc. It was quite remarkable, honestly. (I’ve included some pictures of this night from both the daytime sound check and the evening performance.)

Well, another opportunity rolled around for yet another of these gigs on Friday night of last week. Both of the latter shows were part of the 4th Annual “Beijing 2008” Olympic Cultural Festival events. They were open-air concerts and were packed with attendees and enthusiasm.

As you know, my sister was in Beijing with her fiancé and I was conscious that they had already crossed off the “see Ember perform in China” item from their list (the night before). So, I wasn’t sure if they’d be interested in attending such an event. I spoke to them about it and the mention of the 2008 Olympics piqued their interest instantly. They agreed to attend and so I put on my fancy red dress once again and headed to meet George.

We made our way down to the 世界艺术馆 or The World Art Museum. I still haven’t seen inside this museum (save the backstage area) but it’s in a dense section of town and the building was immense and looked a bit like a spaceship. They had set up a huge outdoor stage behind the building and it was lit up like a stadium with lights and action everywhere. The audience had all been given these large blow-up plastic toys like pool toys and they were waving them and bouncing them up and down. Each performer was greeted with cheers and their performances were applauded vigorously. It was the kind of audience you dream about; the audience that wants you to succeed and so your performance is successful before it has even begun.

I paused before going backstage to take it all in. The movement of the plastic toys was like a wave of colour across the audience. The dry ice was blowing onto the stage in big bursts capturing the stage lights in all their rainbow glory and the excitement grabbed the hairs on my forearm and made them stand up, alert and ready. This image reminded me of candy, somehow, and I smiled at my inner child and the simple association my brain had just made.

I hadn’t been there even an hour before it was time to get on stage. George entered the audience in his official Olympic outfit, slowly carrying a torch and jogging up and down the aisles to screaming cheers. He arrived on stage and played his first song solo (in Chinese, of course) before inviting me up with him. The audience welcomed me with a roar and when he started the chords for the famous Chinese song I was about to sing, the love was sealed. They sang along and gave me only joy. It was impossible to lose.

Afterwards, I signed autographs for many sweet young girls before the security personnel insisted we break away and head backstage once again.

Only an hour after the show ended the place was deserted. I am always amazed by how quickly events start up and close down here in China. All of the plastic toys had been collected in large plastic bags and were being put back in storage. The cameras were long gone. They wanted to shut off the building’s lights and lock the door and they were urging us to leave. We were ushered out with a smile.

My spirit felt full. I was thrilled to get the opportunity – the spontaneous opportunity – to perform one last time and in such a unique environment. My sister and Steve were also smiling from ear to ear. They had had a great time and were just as charmed by the whole event as I was.

Thanks George!

The night came to a late close over drinks in Hou Hai. The day had been intense and it was only the end of the first full day as a tour guide for my family. (Don’t forget that the day started with The Great Wall of China and then shopping at two different markets (more on that soon!) and then this concert!) I have a new-found respect for the travel and guiding industry!

I fell into a deep sleep that night, prepping my body for day number two of their visit and my second last day in my beloved China.

I dreamed sweet dreams filled with candy and colours and laughter.

And music.

Don’t forget the music.